chapter  21
12 Pages

Ethnic reconstruction and Austronesian strategies at the borders

The Moken social space in Burma
WithJacques Ivanoff

This chapter focuses on ethnicity and the impacts of borders among sea nomads of Thailand and Myanmar. It descibes the strategy of the “pivot” adopted and adapted by the Moken of the Mergui Archipelago. This pivot allows a Moken group to separate from its Austronesian matrix, ethnic group, village, and flotilla, and go further north to continue its migration while part of it remains within the dominant nation. The long traditon of interaction (commercial exchange, slavery, wars) have made the Moken flexible and encouraged them to develop such strategies to avoid integration and enables them to maintain links betwen all the sea nomad groups along the coast from Riau-Lingga, Malaysia, and Thailand, to Myanmar. By organizing a nomadic network among the islands and along the shore of the western coast of the “Golden Peninsula”» sea gypsies allow transmission to carry on and became the memory of the region (through the 100 hours of oral literature collected and translated). Within a broad analysis of the Austronesian migration and by giving a contemporary ethnographical examples of these techniques the author explains the “Moken strategy” which allows them to remain sea gypsies in their own social space.